The emergence and spread of the coronavirus in Africa have been accompanied by misinformation. Since the news of Covid-19 first broke a few months ago, people all over Africa and the world, in general, have scrambled for information, this has led many to consume and spread misconceptions about the pandemic, especially in Africa.
The widely spread misconceptions – some of which were reported by top media and news agencies (not TAE) has attracted the attention of the World Health Organization (WHO). The WHO has released several statements through its official social media accounts and online channels warning that an “infodemic” has developed alongside the coronavirus pandemic.
The World Health Organization in one of its statements described it “an over-abundance of information—some accurate and some not—that makes it hard for people to find trustworthy sources and reliable guidance when they need it.”
In the effort to help dispel some misinformation, here are a few misconceptions that have been circulating about COVID-19 in Africa.
1. Coronavirus only affects the elderly or the sick:
Although it was initially believed that older people with health conditions were the only ones seriously affected by the virus, as COVID-19 has spread, more and more youth are being sickened or dying from it.
Zimbabwe’s first COVID-19 casualty was 30-year-old TV personality Zororo Makamba.
The 28-year-old Kenyan journalist Myra Anubi, who has been diagnosed with coronavirus, called the biggest threat to combat the virus “misinformation.”
2. Chloroquine cures Coronavirus:
Social media posts have been spreading the erroneous message that the anti-malarial drug chloroquine is a protective measure or treatment.
While the potential benefits of chloroquine are still being studied, there is as yet no scientific proof to support this claim.
Doctors in Lagos, Nigeria have denounced a WhatsApp message currently being circulated in the country that recommends a significantly higher dose than is typically prescribed for malaria treatment.
Doctors are now reporting a spike in chloroquine poisoning. Overdoses have caused at least three deaths in Nigeria so far. The myth has also caused the price of chloroquine, which is also used to treat lupus and rheumatoid arthritis, to quintuple in Nigeria.
3. Dettol prevents Coronavirus:
A viral message on WhatsApp, which originated from Facebook has been trending in Nigeria with the claim “Wow! We’ll share! Imagine Dettol can help in fighting Coronavirus and we’re ignorant of it. It’s written on the container zoom and read’’
The label says that Dettol is proven to kill bacteria, and viruses such as E. coli and salmonella, as well as human coronavirus. However, the novel human coronavirus [COVID-19] has never been tested by Dettol, who have also released an official statement saying, “As this is an emerging outbreak RB, like all manufacturers, doesn’t yet have access to the new virus (2019-nCoV) for testing and, as a result, are not yet in a position to confirm levels of effectiveness against the new strain.
4. Coronavirus can be transmitted by mosquitoes:
The myth that mosquitoes can spread coronavirus gained traction alongside the myth that the malaria-fighting drug chloroquine was an effective vaccine or treatment.
In fact, COVID-19 is a respiratory illness that is transmitted through saliva or mucous. That’s why handwashing and physical distancing are so important for limiting the spread.
5. Hot weather kills Coronavirus:
While scientists are still studying the conditions in which coronavirus most thrives, warm weather does not kill the virus. Moreover, it is not even clear that warmer climates stunt COVID-19’s transmission.
In Africa, some countries reporting the highest number of cases have average daily temperatures above 40 degrees Celsius.
6. Coronavirus testing kits are infected with Coronavirus:
In South Africa, a video claiming testing kits were contaminated was widely shared on social media.mIn the video, a man calls on South Africans to refuse swab tests, which check if someone currently has the virus.
The clip begins with the man having a swab stuck up his nose. "Do not under any circumstances allow them to test you. There's a possibility that the swabs are contaminated with Covid-19," he says.
He alleges that people globally are saying the swabs are being used to spread the virus, and refers to reports in the UK that test kits there were contaminated.
The Eastern Cape Department of Health says the man's allegations are unfounded.
"We would like to put it on record that the testing kits are not contaminated and emphasise that we would never put people's lives at risk by using contaminated testing kits on them," spokesperson Sizwe Kupelo told the media.
The man was arrested by police and has appeared before magistrates.
7. Coronavirus vaccines are being tested on Africans first:
Widely-shared social media posts are claiming that African people are to be used as guinea pigs to test a new coronavirus vaccine.
However, such claims are false - there is no vaccine for Covid-19 and only several clinical trials are taking place, none of them currently in African countries.
This erupted on social media again after an interview featuring two French scientists on 1 April went viral and they were accused of calling for a vaccine to be tested on Africans first.
One of them asks if tests to see if a tuberculosis vaccine is effective against the coronavirus could be done in Africa where "there are no masks, no treatments, and no resuscitation?"
The comments were widely criticized, by among others the World Health Organization (WHO) and football stars Samuel Eto'o and Didier Drogba who said: "Africa isn't a testing lab."
WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said: "Africa can't and will not be a testing ground for any vaccine; we will follow all the rules to test any vaccine or therapeutics all over the world using the same rules."
A vaccine could still be 12 to 18 months away. However, the scientists say they've been misrepresented. In the interview, they do not say that testing of the vaccine should be carried out in Africa first - but that a parallel study should be carried out there too.
8. Black skin is resistant to Covid-19:
With currently 11,810 and 611 deaths from Coronavirus in Africa, how could people believe this? Well, some do! There have been persistent suggestions on social media about skin color and resistance to the illness. On 13 March, the Kenyan health minister dismissed the rumors that "those with black skin cannot get coronavirus".
According to Professor Thumbi Ndung'u from the Nelson R Mandela School of Medicine in Durban; "there is no evidence to back up the idea - and indeed, we know that people with black skin are getting infected."
9. Black tea cures Coronavirus:
Keeping hydrated is important for your health, but drinking black tea is not a cure or treatment for Covid-19 as has been claimed.
Kenyan media have been highlighting false claims that drinking tea is effective against Covid-19.
According to local Kenyan media reports, people there have been receiving phone calls advising them to drink tea to avoid the coronavirus - and that if they didn't they might die from the illness. This is a myth and has no medical basis.
10. You need to shave your beard to protect against Coronavirus:
An old graphic created by the US health authorities about facial hair and respirators has been used incorrectly to suggest men should shave off their beards to avoid catching the coronavirus.
The Nigerian Punch newspaper's headline said: "To be safe from coronavirus, shave your beard, CDC warns"
The US Centers for Disease Control (CDC) image shows dozens of examples of facial hair and which ones to avoid when wearing a respirator mask. Beard styles such as Side Whiskers and the Zappa are approved but the Garibaldi and French Fork can interfere with the valve and prevent the respirator from working properly.
The graphic is genuine - but it was created in 2017 (well before the coronavirus outbreak) for workers who wear tight-fitting respirators. Contrary to what's been reported, the CDC has not published it recently and it does not recommend that people shave off their beards.
What have you heard? Do you believe it is a misconception? Please share it below.